The Prize Essay
George Garnett reflects on the Julia Wood Prize and on the state of sixth-form history.
In 1994 the history tutors at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, decided to reallocate a prize formerly awarded to a second-year undergraduate historian. We thought that offering a prize of several hundred pounds for an essay written by a sixth-former would encourage a large number of entries. We also thought that it would give us a very good idea of what was going on in sixth-form history in a wide range of schools. By persuading History Review to publish the winning essay, considerable kudos was added to monetary reward: very few historians secure an audience of this size before they have even taken their A levels, IB or equivalent. And the wide readership of the Review would gain an idea of what the best sixth-form historians are capable.
On all counts we were right. We have had an average of over 100 entries a year, for 17 years. That is an awful lot of history essays, all of them 3000-4000 words long. The candidates are to a considerable degree self-selecting, so we gain an insight into what the best historians are doing in schools.